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The Philosophy of Tim Burton

edited by Jennifer L. McMahon

Publication Year: 2014

Director and producer Tim Burton impresses audiences with stunning visuals, sinister fantasy worlds, and characters whose personalities are strange and yet familiar. Drawing inspiration from sources as varied as Lewis Carroll, Salvador Dalí, Washington Irving, and Dr. Seuss, Burton's creations frequently elicit both alarm and wonder. Whether crafting an offbeat animated feature, a box-office hit, a collection of short fiction, or an art exhibition, Burton pushes the envelope, and he has emerged as a powerful force in contemporary popular culture.

In The Philosophy of Tim Burton, a distinguished group of scholars examines the philosophical underpinnings and significance of the director's oeuvre, investigating films such as Batman (1989), Edward Scissorhands (1990), The Nightmare before Christmas (1993), Sleepy Hollow (1999), Big Fish (2003), Sweeney Todd (2007), Alice in Wonderland (2010), and Dark Shadows (2012). The essays in this volume explore Burton's distinctive style, often disturbing content, and popular appeal through three thematic lenses: identity, views on authority, and aesthetic vision.

Covering topics ranging from Burton's fascination with Victorian ideals, to his celebration of childhood, to his personal expression of the fantastic, the contributors highlight the filmmaker's peculiar narrative style and his use of unreal settings to prompt heightened awareness of the world we inhabit. The Philosophy of Tim Burton offers a penetrating and provocative look at one of Hollywood's most influential auteurs.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Series: The Philosophy of Popular Culture


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 1-6

No contemporary director-producer has as deliciously macabre a signature as Tim Burton. Known for his quirky characters and delightfully sinister settings, Burton displays an undeniable knack for the fantastic. Alluding to sources as varied as Lewis Carroll, Mary Shelley, Washington Irving...

Part 1: Burton and Identity

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Fishing for the [Mediating] Self

Ken Hada

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pp. 9-30

No son wants a delusional or dishonest father, but this seems to be the situation that Will Bloom (Billy Crudup) faces in Tim Burton’s film Big Fish (2003). Will is convinced that his father, Ed Bloom (Albert Finney), is an irresponsible liar whose self-proclaimed fantastic identity is delusional. The...

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Catwoman and Subjectivity

Ryan Weldon

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pp. 31-46

Tim Burton’s films always contain a cast of interesting characters. Primarily, his character construction and interaction with the plot revolve around a critique of the normal. Normalcy, by whatever yardstick the viewer measures it, never goes unconsidered in a Tim Burton film. We see this in movies as...

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The Consol ations and Dangersof Fantasy

Daniel Sullivan

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pp. 47-66

The horror film genre is part of the foundation of Tim Burton’s personality and body of work. His philosophy of life and film is partly shaped by the possibilities he has long seen in the realm of dark cinematic fantasy. As a child, Burton saw in horror films and writing an inventive escape from drudgery...

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Johnny Depp Is a Big Baby!

Mark Walling

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pp. 67-82

Ed Wood (Johnny Depp) is directing a scene in Tim Burton’s biopic (Ed Wood, 1994) of the man voted the worst film director of all time. The film is Bride of the Atom, which was released as Bride of the Monster (1955), one of Wood’s more infamous works. As he enters a room, Tor Johnson (George...

Part 2: Burton and Authority

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Mars Attacks!

Paul A. Cantor

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pp. 85-110

Tim Burton’s wacky sci-fi film Mars Attacks! (1996) is not considered one of the highpoints of his career. Although the movie took in over $100 million worldwide in its initial release, it was judged a box-office failure, given the fact that it was budgeted for roughly the same amount and its backers...

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“Pinioned by a Chainof Re asoning”?

Steve Benton

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pp. 111-130

In his classic study Love and Death in the American Novel (1960), literary critic Leslie Fiedler famously describes Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle” (1819) as the foundational text of American literature because the civilization-shunning character it celebrates is the “typical male protagonist...

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Culture, Hermeneutics,and the Batman

Kevin S. Decker

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pp. 131-150

In Tim Burton’s Batman (1989), the Caped Crusader’s arch-nemesis, the Joker (Jack Nicholson), tries to make Batman (Michael Keaton) drop his guard by claiming that the hero is responsible for creating him. But Batman— the orphaned millionaire Bruce Wayne—can make the same claim...

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Kimberly Baltzer-Jaray

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pp. 151-168

Metaphysics can be described as the branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of being, existence, and reality. Epistemology, another fundamental branch of philosophy, is intimately tied to metaphysics because it deals with the nature of knowledge: to talk about what is, one must speak of knowing...

Part 3: Burton and Aesthetics

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A Symphony of Horror

Jennifer L. Jenkins

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pp. 171-192

Sweeney Todd (2007) marks a significant deviation for Tim Burton in terms of his prior work and practice.1 While he had already worked on musicals (The Nightmare Before Christmas [1993], Corpse Bride [2005]) and literary adaptations (Sleepy Hollow [1999], Planet of the Apes [2001], Big Fish...

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Tim Burton, Johnny Depp,and the Fantastic

Deborah Knight and George McKnight

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pp. 193-214

Johnny Depp has appeared in eight films directed by Tim Burton, most recently Dark Shadows (2012). In this chapter we explore Burton’s construction of fantastic worlds in the films that feature Depp as Burton’s persona, or “second self.” Our starting point is Tzvetan Todorov’s conception of “the...

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It’s Uncanny

Jennifer L. McMahon

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pp. 215-242

For a quarter of a century, Tim Burton has captivated audiences with his offbeat creations. Known for his macabre style and predisposition for the fantastic, Burton consistently delights viewers with his strange settings and peculiar characters. As anyone acquainted with Burton’s corpus is aware...

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Affect without Illusion

David LaRocca

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pp. 243-266

The director Edward D. Wood Jr. is derided for the films he made in the 1950s and otherwise notorious as the “worst director of all time”—a sort of patron saint of the B movie.1 Part of the pleasure audiences derive from proclaiming Wood the worst practitioner of filmmaking seems linked with...

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Little Burton Blue

Debbie Olson

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pp. 267-286

Color is the language of modern fairy tales. Color is also part of the language of consumer culture. Children’s films, or films targeted toward children, particularly animated films, are constructed around and negotiated within capitalist consumer culture, intricately weaving commodities and consumption...


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pp. 287-292


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pp. 293-298

Series Page

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E-ISBN-13: 9780813144641
E-ISBN-10: 0813144647
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813144627

Page Count: 306
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: The Philosophy of Popular Culture
Series Editor Byline: Mark T. Conard See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 874029342
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Philosophy of Tim Burton